Yesterdays lies, p.5
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       Yesterday's Lies, p.5

           Lisa Jackson
 
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  Rex ran his flashlight over the calf’s body and Tory noticed the three darkened splotches on the heifer’s abdomen. Dried blood had clotted over the red and white hairs. Tory closed her eyes for a second. Whoever had killed the calf hadn’t even had the decency to make it a clean kill. The poor creature had probably suffered for several hours before dying beneath the solitary ponderosa pine tree.

  “What about the cow—the mother of the calf?”

  “I took care of her,” Rex stated. “She’s with the rest of the herd in the south pasture.”

  Tory nodded thoughtfully and cocked her head toward the dead calf. “Let’s cover her up,” she whispered. “I’ve got a tarp in the back of the truck.”

  “Why?” Rex asked, but Trask was already returning to the pickup for the tarp.

  “I want someone from the sheriff’s office to see the calf and I don’t want to take a chance that some scavenger finds her. A coyote could clean the carcass by morning,” Tory replied, as she stood and dusted off her skirt. In the darkness, her eyes glinted with determination. “Someone did this—” she pointed to the calf “—deliberately. I want that person found.”

  Rex sucked in his breath and shook his head. “Might not be that easy,” he thought aloud.

  “Well, we’ve got to do something. We can’t just sit by and let it happen again.”

  Rex shook his head. “You’re right, Tory. I can’t argue with that. Whoever did this should have to pay, but I doubt if having someone from the sheriff’s office come out will do any good.”

  “Maybe not, but at least we’ll find out if any of the other ranchers have had similar problems.”

  Rex forced his hands into the pockets of his lightweight jacket and pulled his shoulders closer to his neck as the rain began to shower in earnest. “I’ll check all the fields tomorrow, just to make sure that there are no other surprises.”

  “Good.”

  Rex glanced uneasily toward the trucks, where Trask was fetching the tarp. “There’s something else you should know,” the foreman said. His voice was low, as if he didn’t want to be overheard.

  Tory followed Rex’s gaze. “What?”

  “The fence...someone snipped it. Whoever did this—” he motioned toward the dead calf “—didn’t bother to climb through the fence, or use the gate. No, sir. They clipped all four wires clean open.”

  Tory’s heart froze. Whoever had killed the calf had done it blatantly, almost tauntingly. She felt her stomach quiver with premonition. Things had gone from bad to worse in the span of a few short hours.

  “I patched it up as best I could,” Rex was saying with a frown. “I’ll need a couple of the hands out here tomorrow to do a decent job of it.”

  “You don’t think this is the work of kids out for a few kicks,” Tory guessed.

  Rex shrugged and even in the darkness Tory could see him scowl distractedly. “I don’t rightly know, but I doubt it.”

  “Great.”

  “You don’t have anyone who bears you a grudge, do you?” Rex asked uncomfortably.

  “Not that I know of.”

  “How about someone who still has it in for your pop? Now that he’s gone, you’d be the most likely target.” He thought for a minute, as if he was hesitant to bring up a sore subject. “Maybe someone who’s out to make trouble because of the horse swindle?”

  “I don’t think so,” Tory murmured. “It’s been a long time...over five years.”

  “But McFadden is back. Stirring up trouble...” If Rex meant to say anything more, he didn’t. Trask reappeared with the heavy tarp slung over his shoulder. Without a word the two men covered the small calf and lashed the tarp down with rope and metal stakes that Trask had brought from the truck.

  “That about does it,” Rex said, wiping the accumulation of rain from the back of his neck once the unpleasant job had been completed. “It would take a grizzly to rip that open.” He stretched his shoulders before adding, “Like I said, I’ll check all the fences and the livestock myself, in the morning. I’ll let you know if anything looks suspicious.” Rex’s concerned gaze studied Trask for a tense second and Tory saw the muscles in Trask’s face tighten a bit.

  “I’ll talk to you in the morning,” Tory replied.

  “’Night,” Rex mumbled as he turned toward his truck.

  “Thanks for checking it out, Rex.”

  “No problem.” Rex pushed his hat squarely over his head. “All part of the job.”

  “Above and beyond the call of duty at ten o’clock at night.”

  “All in a day’s work,” Rex called over his shoulder.

  Tory stood beside Trask and watched the beam of Rex’s flashlight as the foreman strode briskly back to the truck.

  “Come on,” Trask said, placing his arm familiarly around her shoulders. “You’re getting soaked. Let’s go.”

  Casting a final despairing look at the covered carcass, Tory walked back to the pickup with Trask and didn’t object to the weight of his arm stretched over her shoulders. This night, when her whole world was falling apart, she felt the need of his strength. She supposed her contradictory feelings for him bordered on irony, but she really didn’t care. She was too tired and emotionally drained to consider the consequences of her renewed acquaintance with him.

  “I’ll drive,” Trask said.

  “I can—”

  “I’ll drive,” he stated again, more forcefully, and she reached into her pocket and handed him the keys, too weary to argue over anything so pointless. He knew the back roads of the Lazy W as well as anyone. He had driven them often during the short months of their passionate but traitorous love affair. How long ago that happy carefree time in her life seemed now as they jostled along the furrowed road.

  Trask drove slowly back to the house. The old engine of the truck rumbled through the dark night, the wipers pushed aside the heavy raindrops on the windshield, and the tinny sound of static-filled country music from an all-night radio station drifted out of the speakers.

  “Who do you think did it?” Trask asked as he stopped the truck near the front porch.

  “I don’t have any idea,” Tory admitted with a worried frown. “I don’t really understand what’s going on. Yesterday everything was normal: the worst problem I had to deal with was a broken combine and a horse with laminitis. But now—” she raised her hands helplessly before reaching for the door handle of the pickup “—it seems that all hell has broken loose.” She looked toward him and found his eyes searching the contours of her face.

  “Tory—” He reached for her, and the seductive light in his eyes made her heartbeat quicken. His fingers brushed against the rain-dampened strands of her hair and his lips curved into a wistful smile. “I remember another time,” he said, “when you and I were alone in this very pickup.”

  A passionate image scorched Tory’s mind. Just by staring into Trask’s intense gaze she could recall the feel of his hands against her breasts, the way her skin would quiver at his touch, the taste of his mouth over hers. “I think we’d better not talk or even think about that,” she whispered.

  His fingers lingered against her exposed neck, warming the wet skin near the base of her throat. “Can’t we be together without fighting?” he asked, his voice low with undercurrents of restrained desire.

  After all these years, Trask still wanted her; or at least he wanted her to think that he still cared for her—just a little. Maybe he did. “I...I don’t know.”

  “Let’s try.”

  “I don’t think I want to,” she admitted, but it was too late. She watched with mingled fascination and dread as his head lowered and his mouth closed over hers, just as his hand pressed against her shoulder, pulling her against his chest. She was caught up in the scent of him; the familiar odor of his skin was dampened with the rain and all of her senses reawakened with his touch.

  The warmth of his arms enveloped her and started the trickle of desire running in her blood. Warm lips, filled with the smoldering lust of five long y
ears, touched hers and the tip of his tongue pressed urgently against her teeth.

  I can’t let this happen, she thought wildly, pressing her palms against his shoulders and trying to pull out of his intimate embrace. When he lifted his head from hers, she let her forehead fall against his chin. Her hands remained against his shoulders and only her shallow breathing gave her conflicting emotions away. “We can’t start all over, you know,” she said at length, raising her head and gazing into his eyes. “It’s not as if either of us can forget what happened and start over again.”

  “But we don’t have to let what happened force us apart.”

  “Oh, Trask, come on. Think about it,” Tory said snappishly, although a vital but irrational part of her mind wanted desperately to believe him.

  “I have. For five years.”

  “There’s no other way, Trask. You and I both know it.” Before he could contradict her or the illogical side of her nature could argue with her, she opened the door of the truck and dashed through the rain and across the gravel drive to the house.

  She was already in the den when Trask entered the room. He leaned insolently against the archway. The rain had darkened his hair to a deep brown and the shoulders of his wet shirt clung to his muscles. Standing against the pine wall, his arms crossed insolently over his chest, his brilliant eyes delving into hers, he looked more masculine than she ever would have imagined. Or wanted. “What are you running from?” he asked.

  “You...me...us.” She lifted her hands into the air helplessly before realizing how undignified her emotions appeared. Then, willing her pride back into place, she wrapped her arms around herself and settled into the chair behind her father’s desk. She hoped that the large oak table would put distance between her body and his—give her time to get her conflicting emotions back into perspective.

  Trask looked bone-weary as he sauntered around the den and, uninvited, poured himself a healthy drink from the mirrored bar near the fireplace. He lifted the bottle in silent offering, but Tory shook her head, preferring to keep her wits about her. Her reaction to Trask was overwhelming, unwelcome and had to be controlled. She couldn’t let herself be duped again. What was it they always said? Once burned, twice shy? That’s the way it had to be with Trask, she tried to convince herself. He’d used her once. Never again.

  He strode over to the window, propping one booted foot against a small stool, sipping his drink and staring out at the starless night. Raindrops slid in twisted paths down the panes.

  “This ever happened before?” Trask asked. He turned and leaned against the windowsill, one broad hand supporting most of his weight.

  “What?”

  “Some of your livestock being used for target practice.”

  Her eyes narrowed at the cruel analogy. “No.”

  Swirling the amber liquor in his glass, he stared at her. “Don’t you think it’s odd?”

  “Of course.”

  Trask shook his head. “More than that, Tory. Not just odd. What I meant is that it seems like more than a coincidence. First this letter—” he pointed to the anonymous note still lying face up crumpled on a small table “—and now the calf.”

  Tory felt the prickling sensation of dread climb up her spine. “What are you getting at?”

  “I think the dead calf is a warning, Tory.”

  “What!”

  “Someone knows I’m here looking for the person that was unconvicted in the original trial for Jason’s murder. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I intended to visit you. The calf was a message to stay away from me.”

  Tory laughed nervously. “You’re not serious....”

  “Dead serious.”

  Tory felt the first stirrings of fear. “I think you’ve been in Washington too long, senator,” she replied. “Too many subcommittees on underworld crime have got you jumping at shadows. This is Sinclair, Oregon, not New York City.”

  “I’m not kidding, Tory.” His eyes glittered dangerously and he finished his drink with a scowl. “Someone’s trying to scare you off.”

  “It was probably just a prank, like Rex said.”

  “Rex didn’t believe that and neither do you.”

  “You know how kids are: they get an idea in their heads and just for kicks—”

  “They slaughter a calf?” he finished ungraciously. Anger flashed in his eyes and was evident in the set of his shoulders. “Real funny: a heifer with three gunshot wounds. Some sense of humor.”

  “I didn’t say it was meant to be funny.”

  His fist crashed violently into the windowsill. “Damn it, Tory, haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve said? It’s obvious to me that someone is trying to scare you off!”

  “Then why not send me a letter...or phone me? Why something as obscure as a dead calf? If you ask me, you’re grasping at straws, trying to tie one event to the other just so that I’ll help you in this...this wild-goose chase!” Realizing that he only intended to continue the argument, she reached for the phone on the corner of the desk.

  Trask’s eyes were blazing and the cords in his neck protruded. He was about to say something more, but Tory shook her head, motioning for him to be silent as she dialed the sheriff’s office and cradled the receiver between her shoulder and her ear. “No, Trask, what you’re suggesting doesn’t make any sense. None whatsoever.”

  “Like hell! If you weren’t so damned stubborn—”

  “Deputy Smith?” Tory said aloud as a curt voice answered the phone. “This is Tory Wilson at the Lazy W.” Tory held up her hand to silence the protests forming on Trask’s tongue. As quickly as possible, she explained everything that had occurred from the time that Len Ross’s hands had noticed the dead animal.

  “We’ll have someone out in the morning,” the deputy promised after telling her that no other rancher had reported any disturbances in the past few weeks. Tory replaced the phone with shaking hands. Her brows drew together thoughtfully.

  “You’re beginning to believe me,” Trask deduced. He was still angry, but his rage was once again controlled.

  “No—”

  “You’d better think about it. Has anything else unusual happened around here?”

  “No...wait a minute. There was the combine that broke down unexpectedly and I do have a stallion with laminitis, but they couldn’t be connected...never mind.” What was she thinking about? Governor’s condition and the broken machinery were all explainable problems of running the Lazy W. The malicious incident involving the calf—that was something else again. She forced a fragile smile. “Look, Trask, I think you’d better leave.”

  “What about the letter?” he demanded, picking up the small piece of paper and waving it in her face. “Are you going to ignore it, too?”

  “I wouldn’t take it too seriously,” she allowed, lifting her shoulders.

  “No?”

  “For God’s sake, Trask, it isn’t even signed. That doesn’t make much sense to me. Why wouldn’t the person who wrote it want to be identified, that is if he has a logical authentic complaint? If the man who wrote this note wanted you to do something, why didn’t he bother to sign the damned thing?”

  “Maybe because he or she is afraid. Maybe the person who was involved with the swindle and avoided justice got away because he’s extremely powerful—”

  “And maybe he just doesn’t exist.” She eyed the grayish sheet of paper disdainfully. “That could be a letter from anyone, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.”

  “Tory—” His eyes darkened at her obstinacy.

  “As I said before, I think it’s time you left.”

  He took a step nearer to her, but she held up her hand before motioning toward the letter. “I can’t help you with this. I have enough tangible problems here on the ranch. I don’t have time to deal with fantasies.”

  Trask watched as she forced the curtain of callous disinterest over her beautiful features. The emerald-green eyes, which had once been so innocent and loving, turned cold with dete
rmination. “Oh, God, Tory, is this what I did to you?” he asked in bewilderment. “Did what happened between us take away all your trust? All your willingness to help? Your concern for others as well as yourself?” He was slowly advancing upon her, his footsteps muffled by the braided rug.

  Tory’s heart pounded betrayingly at his approach. It pulsed rapidly in the hollow of her throat and Trask’s intense gaze rested on the revealing cleft.

  “I’ve missed you,” he whispered.

  “No—”

  “I didn’t mean for everything between us to end the way it did.”

  “But it did. Nothing can change that. You sent my father to prison.”

  “But I only told the truth.” He paused at the desk and hooked a leg over the corner as he stared down at her.

  “Let’s not go over this again. It’s been too long, Trask. Too many wounds are still fresh.” She swallowed with difficulty but managed to meet his stare boldly. “I’ve hated you a long time,” she said, feeling her tongue trip over the lie she had held true for five unforgiving years.

  “I don’t believe it.”

  “You ruined me single-handedly.”

  “Your father did that.” He leaned forward. He was close enough to touch her, but he stopped just short and stared down into her eyes. Eyes that had trusted him with her life five years earlier. “What did you expect me to do? Lie on the witness stand? Would you have preferred not knowing about your father?”

  She couldn’t stand it anymore; couldn’t return his self-righteous stare. “He was innocent, damn it!” Her fists curled into knots of fury and she pushed herself up from the chair.

  “Then why didn’t he save himself, tell his side of the story?”

  “I don’t know.” Her voice trembled slightly. “Don’t you think I’ve asked myself just that question over and over again?” She felt his arms fold around her, draw her close, hold her body against his as he straightened from the desk. She heard the steady beating of his heart, felt the warmth of his breath caress her hair and she knew in a blinding flash of truth that she had never stopped loving him.

 
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